A native of Barrie, Ontario, Shannon Taylor was first introduced to Stratford audiences when she played Liesl in the 2001 production of The Sound of Music.
"I had always been interested in performance," she says. "I grew up in an outgoing, energetic family, and my dad likes to joke that my brother was my first director. I got involved with Barrie's Strolling Youth Players when I was 10 - and that was a real training ground for me over six years, performing shows in malls and libraries and at Gryphon Theatre.
"I also attended the Etobicoke School for the Arts because there I could major in musical theatre. And that's when Stratford called around looking for suitable young people to play the Von Trapp children. It was thrilling to be here at that age, living in the community and performing at the Festival for an entire season. I think that's when everything really came into focus for me. Up until then, theatre had been recreational; but then I was here surrounded by people who were actually performing for a living, and my outlook changed to 'Oh - I could do this!' "
Ms Taylor went on to get her BFA from Ryerson, and her dearest wish was to return to Stratford. "I auditioned twice, but it just didn't happen for me. Not yet. I ended up at The Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program, and that was an excellent place to really hone skills and have a chance at good roles. From there, I travelled all over Canada and built up my resumé with shows like A Midsummer Night's Dream, Little Women and Pride and Prejudice. Coming back to Stratford for the Birmingham Conservatory with all of that experience behind me meant that I was more ready than ever to be trained and focus on the work. The timing was right, and I am very grateful for that in the end."
Playing Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 18th-century comedy The School for Scandal has been a joyful experience for Ms Taylor. The cast has a lovely balance of up-and-coming actors working alongside some of Canada's best-known and best-loved names, including Rod Beattie, Tom Rooney, Joseph Ziegler, Brent Carver and Geraint Wyn Davies - who plays Lady Teazle's baffled and besotted husband, Sir Peter.
"I did one of Ger's WordPlay staged readings in the past," says Ms Taylor, "but this is my first time working with him [in a full production]. I am learning so much playing opposite him. He is so joyous and jolly and connected with the audience, as well as everyone else on stage. He is an extremely generous performer - and that air of availability he demonstrates is so genuine. When he first steps on in his everyday clothes, he reaches out and seamlessly bridges the modern audience from the here-and-now back to the 18th century."
Much of the comedy of the piece centres on the dynamics between former long-time bachelor Sir Peter and his much younger new bride. They seem to do nothing but bicker, and one might easily despair of them ever finding happiness in their marriage.
"Our director, Antoni Cimolino, really wanted to show the true love between the Teazles," Ms Taylor says. "It's a very new marriage: when we first meet them, they are only six months in. There are bound to be growing pains with their contrasting social backgrounds and their age difference. Antoni kept me on track about who the real Lady Teazle was before she married - she was a country girl with simple tastes and a quiet life."
Marrying into wealth and status, Lady Teazle finds herself suddenly at the epicentre of London high society as a lady of fashion. She is surrounded by glittering novelty and deliciously naughty gossip at every turn - and is soon swept up in the mad swirl of frivolity, to the consternation of Sir Peter. Clearly smitten by his lovely young bride, even in her tetchy moments, he is willing and eager to please her. But can he hope for happiness with this once-innocent country girl who has so clearly lost touch with her true self?
"There is a moment for Lady Teazle that changes everything," says Ms Taylor. "The literal and figurative screen comes down, and she has no place to hide. She is forced to take a hard look at herself and see her mistakes. Antoni wanted to show the audience that Lady Teazle isn't always shallow and bad - after all, this is a first marriage for them both. It's a huge compromise for them - the first time both of them have had to live with someone and fully share their lives. There are bound to be moments when things do not go smoothly. But there has to be a genuine love felt between them or it just doesn't work."
This season, Ms Taylor also shares the Festival Theatre stage with Mr. Wyn Davies in Twelfth Night, in which she plays Olivia to his Sir Toby Belch.
"Their dynamic is quite different, obviously. We aren't in as many scenes together, but there is a great deal of warmth and affection between Olivia and Sir Toby. There is a lot of fondness in that relationship, and much genuine concern on her part about his continual boozing and the effects it has on his well-being."
Besides the continuous mutual learning and inspiration between the different generations of performers, she has drawn lessons from her first experience of performing a play by Sheridan.
"The cast in general found it a bigger challenge than Shakespeare when it came to learning our lines. We just don't speak the language the way Sheridan writes it down - it's absolutely packed with qualifiers, like 'by your leave' and 'to be sure,' and that makes it difficult to memorize. But over this nice long run, we are truly making the words our own and bringing it all to life.
"One of the other big learning curves was adapting to movement in the elaborate and voluminous costumes. My gown and wig are both the largest I have ever had to wear on stage, and it really informs your character's every move learning the best way to navigate in those skirts, or having the balance of your head thrown off by a tall wig.
"It's wonderful, and I am surrounded by a great group of supportive people who have the very best skills and attitudes in the business. That makes both the work and life in Stratford rewarding over such a long season."